When the queen of the “bad hair day” died it was impossible for me to come up with anything fun to write about her. There were plenty of epitaphs about how great Phyllis Diller was and the incredible things she had accomplished. I wanted to write something special about such a special lady. So I waited.
At some point, anyone over 40 has said “your hair looks like Phyllis Diller” to someone who was having a bad hair day. But in reality the crazy bed-headed unhappy housewife was actually quite glamorous.
At home she was dressed in the very best attire at all times. There were no bad hair days off-stage for Phyllis Diller. She was decked out first thing every morning and her hair was always meticulous. She knew all the big stars and was dressed to empress, never knowing who might come knocking on the door.
How do I know? A client came in for a haircut that happened to be friends with her and he told me so. Musician John Vaughn is in town from Los Angeles and shared some pretty interesting inside stories that you normally wouldn’t hear about Diller.
A native of Aiken, Vaughn told me about playing at the Diamond Jubilee in England and how he managed to find his way into the Hollywood loop. Vaughn said Diller had heard that he was a good piano player from his mentor, superstar Buddy Rodgers.
Vaughn says Diller first called around Christmas time, “So she said, well, let’s get this straight. What are you gonna play. After about 5 minutes Christmas music makes me nauseas. So I said I’d play my own music. She gave me that famous laugh and said groovy. Make some of it snappy.”
They became friends. He played for her on many occasions and at many of her parties. For her 90th birthday bash he played piano at her home. Guests included the gang of the old TV show Laugh In, complete with Goldie Hawn and Ruth Buzzi.
Diller also loved to paint. Vaughn says that when you walked into the front door of Diller’s home there were many paintings displayed on the entry wall that she had painted herself. On every painting she put a price tag. She insisted that every visitor buy one.
Diller often spoke on TV talk shows of a book written by Claude Bristol called The magic of believing. She said that the book changed her life and accredits most of her success to the positive thinking acquired from reading it.
What she didn’t say in the interviews is that she also had a book of her own she called her Magic Book. She cut out pictures of things she desired and pasted them in it. Vaughn said almost everything in it had come true.
Scott Terwilliger, an Aiken salon owner, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.